Westbrook goes from Lakers' bench to being Clippers' starter

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Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook, right, celebrates after scoring as Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes runs behind during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES – Russell Westbrook not only switched locker rooms at Crypto.com Arena. He went from being on the bench to a return to the starting lineup.

Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue didn’t waste much time seeing how well Westbrook would mesh with his new team. The eight-time All-Star signed after he cleared waivers on Wednesday and was the starting point guard Friday night in a game against the Sacramento Kings.

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Westbrook’s Clippers debut was overshadowed in what ended up being the second-highest-scoring game in NBA history. He had 17 points, 14 assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes during the Clippers’ 176-175 loss to the Kings in double overtime.

“It was great to get back on the floor. Obviously, you want to win and that’s the most important part,” said Westbrook, who fouled out with 1:49 remaining in the second overtime.

Lue was pleased with Westbrook’s debut despite him having only two practices with the Clippers before the game. Westbrook was waived by Utah on Monday after being traded to the Jazz by the Lakers on Feb. 9.

“I thought he was great. Still learning the offense, still learning where guys like the basketball and where to get the ball,” Lue said. “He knew PG’s (Paul George’s) plays and Kawhi’s (Leonard) plays, that’s the most important thing, and he picked up on those right away.”

Westbrook quickly fit in by pushing the pace and finding his new teammates. He was the first Clippers player to have at least 10 assists in his team debut since 2005.

Of Westbrook’s 14 assists, Leonard was the biggest beneficiary. Leonard scored 13 of his season-high 44 points off passes from Westbrook, including three 3-pointers.

Norman Powell had three catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, but Westbrook also had to work it inside, finding Mason Plumlee inside for three easy baskets.

George, the biggest supporter of Westbrook joining the Clippers, said it was quickly apparent that Westbrook filled an immediate need.

“We needed a point guard. What you saw tonight: somebody to get us on offense and someone to get us easy baskets,” said George, who played with Westbrook for two seasons in Oklahoma City. “I know his strengths. If you run with him, he will make the game easier for us.”

Westbrook was 7 of 13 shooting. Most of his attempts were drives in the paint (6 of 9) instead of pullup jumpers, which defined his 1 1/2 seasons with the Lakers. He missed his first three 3-point attempts before making one in the corner in the first overtime.

For all the positive flashes that Westbrook showed, there are things he still needs to clean up with his game. There were seven turnovers, with four attributed to bad passes. He got crossed up on defense late in regulation when Malik Monk hit a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.

The Clippers will need Westbrook to continue to get up to speed with only 20 games remaining in the regular season. Los Angeles is fifth in the Western Conference with a 33-29 record but only two games in front of the pack in the play-in tournament spots.

“I think it’s going to be just learning as we go through the process," Lue said. "We don’t have a lot of time to really experiment, because we’ve still got to win games. We have to make sure we take advantage of everything we can so we can get up to speed.”

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